Not that anyone paying even a modicum of attention is unaware that there’s a cool box around that mimics cell sites so that it picks up your cellular communications, colloquially referred to as the Sting Ray, but that law enforcement has been using it with reckless abandon and without judicial approval. Ah, good times.
The excuse proffered is that Harris Corp., maker of the cell site simulator, required a non-disclosure agreement of law enforcement, and you know how law enforcement feels so strongly about its duty to uphold the law. Unfortunately, some judges haven’t gotten with the program, and compelled the disclosure of both the NDA and the technology, causing sad cop tears at the idea that the bad guys will learn about the tradecraft.
Bad news for the cops is good news for the bad dudes? Ironically, yes, but not for the reason one might expect. It’s not that the gangsters are busy pouring over the schematics of Sting Rays to figure out how to elude detection, but that the feds are so bent on keeping their spyware from judges and public scrutiny that they would rather cut criminals loose than reveal their voodoo.
Not only is the FBI actively attempting to stop the public from knowing about stingrays, it has also forced local law enforcement agencies to stay quiet even in court and during public hearings, too.
An FBI agreement, published for the first time in unredacted form on Tuesday, clearly demonstrates the full extent of the agency’s attempt to quash public disclosure of information about stingrays. The most egregious example of this is language showing that the FBI would rather have a criminal case be dropped to protect secrecy surrounding the stingray.
The idea of trading off accused criminals isn’t really a new thing. One of the weapons in the criminal defense lawyers’ arsenal is representing the little fish at the end of a multi-defendant case, where all the big fishes have copped out and your guppy is the last one floating around the courtroom. Will the feds burn their snitch just to get your puny defendant?
It’s a bit of a game, trying to figure out whether they hate your defendant enough to squander their “asset” on convicting your client. Oftentimes, a confidential informant (which sounds far better than “rat”) will have information on, and access to, other, bigger, crimes, and to reveal that the guy is a CI is to lose any opportunity to use him the next time to infiltrate an alleged criminal organization.
You find out that being a hold-out paid off when the call comes, out of the blue, that the feds are going to nolle pros your client, even while telling you that they know he’s a mutt and will dog his every step for the rest of his life. Yeah, yeah. Whatever. Will tomorrow be soon enough to dismiss?
But trading off a snitch for a low-level defendant seems like a fairly rational allocation of resources. After all, if he’s good for another drug kingpin or organizational takedown, nailing some runner to the wall is hardly a good use of his talents. Plus, if you have any mad cross-examination chops, there is always the chance that the snitch will blow the deal all around, admitting to lying through his teeth at every opportunity to get his own deal nailed down.
The Sting Ray, on the other hand, is the future, and the feds aren’t quite so willing to sell out their technological toys, even if it means that they put the very criminals they claim to need the simulator to nail back on the streets. This isn’t merely an allocation of scarce resources, but a revelation that the very justification used to conceal their methods isn’t of sufficient law enforcement importance to justify pursuing a prosecution against a heinous criminal.
See how that circular reasoning flows?
And yet, the desire for secrecy appears to continue to trump the processes for which the Sting Ray exists. Via Tim Cushing at Techdirt, out of Baltimore:
Det. Cabreja confirmed the ultra-restrictive terms of the FBI’s NDA, which forbids law enforcement agencies from producing any information on Stingray devices, no matter who’s asking for it.
Cabreja said under questioning from defense attorneys that he did not comply with a subpoena to bring the device to court because of a nondisclosure agreement between the Baltimore police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
“Does it instruct you to withhold evidence from the state’s attorney and the circuit court of Baltimore city, even if upon order to produce?” asked defense attorney Joshua Insley.
“Yes,” Cabreja replied, saying he spoke with the FBI last week about the case.
There’s nothing quite like hearing confirmation that two law enforcement agencies worked together to withhold information from a party being prosecuted by directly violating a court order.
To unmix this convoluted rhetoric, the point of the Sting Ray is to obtain evidence to be used in a court of law in the prosecution of a criminal. Its use would require judicial approval, but to obtain judicial approval, the prosecution would be compelled to reveal that a Sting Ray was being used. That would open the door to the defense challenging the use of the Sting Ray in court, which would include disclosure of the details of the Sting Ray which law enforcement has determined should not be revealed at any cost.
So, the feds (and their local counterparts) use the Sting Ray without judicial approval, lie about how they came upon the information and dissemble by creating a fantasy story which they tell a judge under oath to be absolutely true, justifying both the lie and perjury by the need to conceal the use of the String Ray, all because they are serving truth and justice by using the trusted legal process to get criminals off the street to protect society. Whew.
And when they get called out for this bullshit, the alleged bad dude, who is so very evil that they need to lie and perjure themselves to conceal their weapon in the War on Crime, gets cut loose to go out and commit more of those very same, very evil crimes that justify these shenanigans in the first place, whether big fish or small fish, all to protect their beloved Sting Ray.
Somewhere in Washington, this makes sense to someone.